Adia Barnes said she could sense a shift for the worse in her team’s performance after Arizona won its first 11 games of the season.
She motioned with her hand that her team went on a downward slope. The Wildcats hit the bottom on Monday night with Arizona shooting 28 percent from the field in a 63-45 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament second-round game in front of 8,333 fans at McKale Center.
After the 11-0 start, the Wildcats went 7-4 over the next 11 games, including an 81-77 loss at Arizona State on Feb. 11 after the Wildcats swept the Oregon schools at McKale Center convincingly winning both games by a combined 27 points.
“There was a point in the season in February, where I knew, and I said this, ‘We were a better team by far than they were last year,'” Barnes said. “We were clicking. We were playing for each other and then I remember we had three losses and it felt like we lost 10.
“It felt really heavy at the moment. I think that we were just too high and too low sometimes. We had some injuries and we had COVID. Those are all excuses but we just didn’t click the same so I didn’t have that feeling going into the tournament to be honest.”
Barnes mentioned every coach evaluates their own strengths and weaknesses after the season, and she admitted her reflection will include handling “certain things” better.
“Those things were exposed in the last part of the season. That’s the reality. It is what it is but that’s not gonna happen again, because we’re not going to have a team that where that can happen again.”
Barnes did not discuss the issues in particular but it appeared the chemistry of the team did not evolve heathfully as the year progressed. That’s evident in the offensive execution with Arizona scoring 46 points or less in defeats in three of its last five games, including against North Carolina.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR NEXT YEAR
Catalyst Sam Thomas is gone but Cate Reese is a vocal leader Barnes can count on next season. Reese, a three-time All-Pac-12 selection, will take on the same role Thomas had this season — a fifth-year senior who has grown along with the program under Barnes.
Also returning are Shaina Pellington and Bendu Yeaney for their fifth year. Helena Pueyo, who struggled this season with 3.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 22 minutes a game, will be in her fourth season. Lauren Ware will be a three-year veteran.
Taylor Chavez, Madison Conner, Koi Love, Gisela Sanchez, Aaronette Vonleh, Derin Erdogan and Anna Gret Asi are also slated to return.
The recruiting class is phenomenal.
All three of the Class of 2022 players who have signed are rated with at least four stars, including 6-foot-4 forward Maya Nnaji — Zeke’s sister — who is a 5-star recruit. Point guard Kailyn Gilbert is an elite scorer as a playmaker. Canadian guard Lemyah Hylton has experience playing internationally on Team Canada’s U19 team.
Paris Clark, a shooting guard from Brookville, N.Y., has made a commitment to the program. She is expected to sign next month during the spring signing period. She is a the Gatorade New York High School Player of the Year.
All four of these players are expected to make Arizona more effective with its scoring opportunities.
“There needs to be more of a sense of urgency that I didn’t feel like we had at times,” Barnes said of the performance against North Carolina. “We had it in spurts. I felt like we lost a lot of 50/50 balls especially in the first half. I can count like six in my head, and that’s not Arizona.
“We can’t have the personnel we have starting and miss those things. We just have to get better and we are going to get better because we have good players coming in next year. We just need to work on a lot of things.”
BARNES CAREFUL ADDRESSING TECHNICAL FOUL CALLED ON WARE
Arizona appeared to be awaking from its 0-of-13 shooting spell in the first half, cutting a 23-9 deficit to 24-14 when Lauren Ware blocked a shot by Deja Kelly. Ware then stared down at Kelly and mumbled some words.
Tiffany Bird, the ref who gave UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque a technical foul late in Saturday’s game against Arizona, delivered another technical on Ware for taunting.
“I thought that was an interesting technical,” Barnes said incredulously. “I am not going to say anything about that because the officials are really good. The officials do a good job. I think in the NCAA Tournament the rule is everybody is watching. You have to do it (give a technical) and (Ware) kind of yelled and taunted her, which Lauren should not have done.
“We were searching for things to get happy about but she got extra happy. But I mean, that did not have anything to do with the game.”
Kelly made the two free throws after the technical but then Thomas made her third 3-pointer of the game with 1:00 left in the first half to cut the lead to 26-17.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.